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Farmworker Justice is a nonprofit organization that seeks to empower migrant and seasonal farmworkers to improve their living and working conditions, immigration status, health, occupational safety, and access to justice.

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August 19, 2014

Farmworkers, public health advocates, labor organizations, and public officials, were among the more than 175,000 who submitted comments to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) calling on the agency to strengthen its Agricultural Worker Protection Standard (WPS). The WPS is the only federal standard designed to protect the nation’s more than 2 million farmworkers from one of their greatest occupational hazards: pesticide exposure.

“Farmworkers face dangerous exposure to poisons over the course of their working life,” said Eve Gartner, attorney for Earthjustice, a public interest law firm. “While most Americans benefit from broad workplace protections, farmworkers are not protected by the same health and safety standards.”

“The nation’s 2 million farmworkers deserve the level of workplace protections provided to other workers,” said Margaret Reeves, PhD, a senior scientist with Pesticide Action Network. “Protections for workers from pesticide exposure also mean protections for farmworker children and families.”

“Each year pesticide exposure poisons tens of thousands of farmworkers and their families,” said Virginia Ruiz, Director of Occupational and Environmental Health at Farmworker Justice. “We hope EPA responds to the hundreds of thousands of individuals who submitted comments in support of stronger protections and acts quickly to implement a Worker Protection Standard that prevents needless illness, injury, and death in farmworker communities.”

The groups are calling on EPA to change the proposed standard to include:
● Parity with safety rules provided to workers in non-agricultural industries
● Improved safety training annually and starting before workers enter treated fields
● Easily accessible information about pesticides used on the farm and in nurseries
● No children under 18 years of age allowed to handle hazardous pesticides
● Strict adherence to no-entry rules for areas recently treated with pesticides
● Improved protections and safety monitoring for pesticide handlers

Elvia Vasquez of Oxnard, California worked in the fields of Southern California picking strawberries, lettuce and broccoli for nearly a decade. "I would get rashes and headaches when forced to enter the strawberry fields that had been sprayed with pesticides only hours before," said Vasquez, who now works with Organizacion en California de Lideres Campesinas, Inc. to educate farmworkers on the dangers of pesticide exposure.

“We know the EPA has all the information they need to finalize a stronger, better WPS that actually provides real protections for the people who feed our nation,” said Tirso Moreno, General Coordinator of the Farmworker Association of Florida . “The administration has heard the stories from farmworkers and they know what is needed to do the right thing.”

"Millions of farmworkers are exposed to cancer-causing chemicals without adequate safeguards to protect their health," said Murshed Zaheed, Deputy Political Director at CREDO. "The least the EPA can do is take basic steps to protect farmworkers from being exposed to these toxic chemicals."

Indeed the administration has been hearing from workers and advocates for over a decade now - the WPS was first adopted in 1995 and has been awaiting revision since 2000. EPA is finally expected to issue the finalized rule by early 2015, after closing its public comment period on their proposal for a revised WPS at midnight on Monday, Aug 18.

More than 175,000 petition signatures were collected by Earthjustice, Farmworker Association of Florida, Farmworker Justice, Migrant Clinicians Network, Pesticide Action Network North America, United Farm Workers, and CREDO.
 

August 11, 2014

About 2.5 million men and women work on our nation’s farms and ranches; nobody knows how many of them are laboring on Monroe County’s more than 450 farms. It is hard work, made worse by our inhumane national immigration system which Congress seems determined not to fix.

Today the system serves neither our economic interests nor does it protect farmers and their workers, a majority of whom are undocumented immigrants. In the Rochester area, many work picking apples, which is particularly dangerous given the risks of pesticide exposure. Their wages are low and fringe benefits are rare. Housing, when available, is often decrepit and crowded. Undocumented status inhibits workers’ ability to speak up against wage violations, sexual harassment and other abuses.

Agriculture contributes $5.7 billion annually to New York’s economy, yet farmworkers do not have the right to join a union free from retaliation or to overtime pay, and they aren’t guaranteed a day of rest. Bills to address these basic needs stalled in New York’s State Senate. Both of us have first-hand experience with these issues. After entering the United States at age 15 as an undocumented immigrant, Librada joined her brothers picking apples in New York. A single apple tree might be sprayed three times a week or more with a dangerous mix of pesticides, exposing workers to serious long and short-term health risks. In college years later, Librada learned what her rights were and what workplace standards apply to the farms where she had worked. As a public interest lawyer and policy advocate, Bruce and his colleagues help farmworkers remedy their problems.

Our broken immigration system remains a barrier to progress for farmworkers.After months of negotiations between farmworker and agricultural stakeholders, a bipartisan group of senators in Washington produced a tough-but-fair compromise that is included in the comprehensive immigration reform bill. But obstruction in the House of Representatives has led to demands for President Obama to alleviate the harm unfairly inflicted on law-abiding,undocumented immigrants. The President should act, but only Congress can grant aspiring Americans the opportunity to earn legal residency and citizenship.

Goldstein is president of Farmworker Justice, a non-profit, nonpartisan organization in Washington, D.C. Paz, a former farmworker, is the Robert F. Kennedy human rights laureate for 2012 and a Brockport resident.

August 11, 2014

About 2.5 million men and women work on our nation’s farms and ranches; nobody knows how many of them are laboring on Monroe County’s more than 450 farms. It is hard work, made worse by our inhumane national immigration system which Congress seems determined not to fix.

Today the system serves neither our economic interests nor does it protect farmers and their workers, a majority of whom are undocumented immigrants. In the Rochester area, many work picking apples, which is particularly dangerous given the risks of pesticide exposure. Their wages are low and fringe benefits are rare. Housing, when available, is often decrepit and crowded. Undocumented status inhibits workers’ ability to speak up against wage violations, sexual harassment and other abuses.

Agriculture contributes $5.7 billion annually to New York’s economy, yet farmworkers do not have the right to join a union free from retaliation or to overtime pay, and they aren’t guaranteed a day of rest. Bills to address these basic needs stalled in New York’s State Senate. Both of us have first-hand experience with these issues. After entering the United States at age 15 as an undocumented immigrant, Librada joined her brothers picking apples in New York. A single apple tree might be sprayed three times a week or more with a dangerous mix of pesticides, exposing workers to serious long and short-term health risks. In college years later, Librada learned what her rights were and what workplace standards apply to the farms where she had worked. As a public interest lawyer and policy advocate, Bruce and his colleagues help farmworkers remedy their problems.

Our broken immigration system remains a barrier to progress for farmworkers.After months of negotiations between farmworker and agricultural stakeholders, a bipartisan group of senators in Washington produced a tough-but-fair compromise that is included in the comprehensive immigration reform bill. But obstruction in the House of Representatives has led to demands for President Obama to alleviate the harm unfairly inflicted on law-abiding,undocumented immigrants. The President should act, but only Congress can grant aspiring Americans the opportunity to earn legal residency and citizenship.

Goldstein is president of Farmworker Justice, a non-profit, nonpartisan organization in Washington, D.C. Paz, a former farmworker, is the Robert F. Kennedy human rights laureate for 2012 and a Brockport resident.

Featured Blog

August 29, 2014

When it comes to farm labor, immigration policy is labor policy.  So this Labor Day, let’s hope that our collective advocacy persuades the President to create a generous program that helps many farmworker families. President Obama plans to grant some undocumented immigrants temporary relief from deportation and authorization to work.  Unfortunately, whatever the President does won’t be enough.  Only Congress can change the law.
 
Most of the nation’s 2.5 million farmworkers – at least 1.25 million and possibly 1.75 million -- are undocumented.
 
We as a nation permitted this to happen.  A broken immigration system allowed employers to hire new immigrants and deprived these productive workers of  immigration status.  Such vulnerable workers, especially absent a union, cannot negotiate  for job terms as forcefully as U.S. citizens and permanent residents.
 
“We have long waivered and compromised on the issue of migratory labor in agriculture.  We have failed to adopt policies designed to insure an adequate supply of such labor at decent standards of employment.  . . . We have used the institutions of government to procure alien labor willing to work under obsolete and backward conditions and thus to perpetuate those very conditions.”  Report of the President’s Commission on Migratory Labor (1951), p.23
 

The President should offer administrative relief.  And then Congress should offer a true legal immigration status and opportunity to earn citizenship  But that is not enough.
 
“Shall we continue indefinitely to have low work standards and conditions of employment in agriculture, thus depending on the underprivileged and the unfortunate at home and abroad to supply and replenish our seasonal and migratory work force?  Or shall we do in agriculture what we have already done in other sectors of our economy – create honest-to-goodness jobs which will offer a decent living so that domestic workers, without being forced by dire necessity, will be willing to stay in agriculture and become a dependable labor supply?”  Id.
 
We must empower farmworkers to bargain for better wages and conditions.  A starting point would be to end to discriminatory employment laws that deprive farmworkers of occupational safety protections, workers’ compensation, unemployment insurance, overtime pay, and other labor standards that apply to other workers.  Most important, we must help farmworkers organize to demand and win better treatment by their employers.
 
Some agricultural employers demand a new agricultural guestworker program.  They prefer guestworkers on restricted temporary visas compared to immigrants and citizens, who may have the freedom to switch employers, challenge illegal conduct, join a labor union, and vote in elections that lead to policy changes. We already have the H-2A guestworker program.  Many don’t want to use it because it has modest labor protections and government oversight. There is also a recent history of successful union organizing of H-2A guestworkers in North Carolina’s tobacco farms.
 
President Obama should issue a policy that allows the largest possible number of farmworkers and their family members to obtain immigration status and work authorization.  Then Congress should act to grant access to a true immigration status leading to citizenship.  Our challenge at Farmworker Justice is to help farmworkers gain access to any new program and help them organize to win a greater measure of justice in the fields and in their communities.


 

Immigration

June 04, 2013

Stay in the know by reading our briefs on the latest happenings in immigration reform and the impacts on farmworkers. 

Immigration reform updates

8/22/2014 Farmworker Justice Immigration Update

8/04/2014 Farmworker Justice Immigration Update

June 04, 2013

Immigration is a critically important issue for farmworkers. Learn about current legislation proposals impacting farmworkers.

June 04, 2013

Learn about the history of guestworker programs, H-2A program for temporary agricultural work, and the H-2B visa program.